Klein ISD wants Taj Mahal high schools; parents want "underperforming" district to provide a quality education

Today's Chron covers the Klein ISD bond election that we've discussed here several times. In it we learn that if the bond passes, Klein residents will be trailblazers in the Greater Houston area:

For some Klein residents, it was sticker shock of monumental proportions: two $130 million high schools included in the school district's May 10 bond proposal.

Though the Klein schools are on pace to become the most expensive campuses in the Houston area, industry leaders said the hefty price tags are simply a sign of the times: mounting construction costs and the desire of school districts to economize with super-sized facilities.

Welcome to the era of the $100-plus million high school, they say.

Cypress-Fairbanks flirted with but didn't reach the $100 million milestone late last year with two high schools planned for 2011. Klein's campuses, however, look to leave that figure in the dust.

The mammoth 640,000-square-foot campuses will include amenities such as natatoriums, black-box theaters, dance areas and extensive career and technology programs to serve about 3,500 students.

"The community expects those programs," said Liz Johnson, spokeswoman for the 42,000-student school district. "And it's really more efficient to build a larger school.

Ack! Yes, it's more efficient for the school district to build a larger school, but if a quality education is what's desired, larger schools are not the answer.

It seems, however, that quality education is not the top priority for Klein ISD these days, as the recent rankings from the non-profit think tank Children at Risk show. Klein High School, which would receive a $130 million rebuild if the bond passes, moved up from #19 to #18, but the other three high schools in the district nosedived. My friend Connie O'Donnell wrote a letter to KISD Superintendent Dr. Jim Cain after seeing the results. With her permission, I'm excerpting a portion of the letter here, and reprinting it in full at the end of the post.

As you are probably aware by now, the Houston Chronicle has published the findings of the Children at Risk group which ranks the Houston area schools. I remember meeting with you and Dr. Robert Sanborn, who heads up this group, and discussing the low ranking of Klein Oak not too long ago. I thought for sure we would see Klein Oak rise up the list since then, but actually Klein Oak has dropped from #40 last year to #74 this year. I am hoping that you or someone in your administration can help me understand why this has happened. As a matter of fact, here's how the other Klein ISD high schools fared: Klein High went from #19 to #18, Klein Collins went from #26 to #47 and Klein Forest went from #73 to #113.

Connie goes on to include this quote from Dr. Sanborn:

"Klein is an under-performing school district. Klein has an affluent population. They have parents who really care. It seems like they're doing all the basic things but nothing extraordinary, and that is reflected in their rankings."

The only extraordinary things Klein officials want to work on are fancy high schools with natatoriums, black box theaters, dance areas, and career centers. All that would be well and good, one supposes, if the district weren't letting the rest of its responsibilities deteriorate. It's outrageous that KISD has only one high school in the top tier! Klein Collins is second tier, Klein Oak is third tier, and Klein Forest is fourth tier! And the district wants taxpayers to rebuild Klein High into a palatial showstopper?!

Dr. Cain did respond to Connie. He disputed Dr. Sanborn's findings. He also acknowledged that Klein Oak has been facing accelerated growth, but the district's solution is to build a new wing onto the school. Yippee! That will surely improve things.

Currently Dr. Cain is busy on the Klein circuit, so to speak, selling his proposal. Word is that he's hitting seniors groups, telling them their taxes won't increase. Gee, that's great. But what about folks who try to sell a house that's zoned into one of the three tanking high schools? How's that for a selling feature?

Another part of the bond that's a concern is the "laptops-for-all." Apparently they are tablet PCs. Parents must buy insurance, and there isn't an opt out. My son saw one yesterday, and he said it's cool looking, but slower than molasses. Great! What about situations where parents are currently trying to limit the amount of time their kids spend on a computer? Thanks, Klein ISD, for taking that parenting decision out of the hands of parents. Now kids can spend hours a day perfecting their learning surfing skills.

Remember what the number one complaint of businesses is about students entering the workforce? A complete lack of basic writing, math, and reading comprehension skills. Tablet PCs really should address those problems. Not!

Too bad there aren't any grownups at Klein ISD, making the decisions. Too bad Dr. Saavedra is already taken.

(Here's Connie O'Donnell's letter in full:)

Dear Dr. Cain-

As you are probably aware by now, the Houston Chronicle has published the findings of the Children at Risk group which ranks the Houston area schools. I remember meeting with you and Dr. Robert Sanborn, who heads up this group, and discussing the low ranking of Klein Oak not too long ago. I thought for sure we would see Klein Oak rise up the list since then, but actually Klein Oak has dropped from #40 last year to #74 this year. I am hoping that you or someone in your administration can help me understand why this has happened. As a matter of fact, here's how the other Klein ISD high schools fared: Klein High went from #19 to #18, Klein Collins went from #26 to #47 and Klein Forest went from #73 to #113. In Dr. Robert Sanborn's comments to the Houston Chronicle, he said,

"Klein is an under-performing school district. Klein has an affluent population. They have parents who really care. It seems like they're doing all the basic things but nothing extraordinary, and that is reflected in their rankings."

"It is troubling when you have a big school district like HISD, and you see what a wonderful job they can do with some students, and then you have these other schools that it looks like the students are just being thrown away. We need to do a better job with all students."

"In Texas, we love football, and that means we have to have big high schools, but we should also love being No. 1 academically."

Some of the numbers that puzzled me about the ranking of Klein Oak:

1. The percentage of KOHS students taking the SAT/ACT is listed at 65.7%. (Klein High is at 97.4%.) The Children at Risk group thinks that schools should be pushing for a 100% participation in this number, so Oak is quite low in this regard.

2. The percentage of KOHS students graduating under the Recommended High School Plan or Distinguished Achievement Plan is listed at 55.4%. (Klein High is at 73.2%.) This is one of the most troubling things on this rankings list to me. These numbers came straight from the TEA School Report Card, and I can't understand how only a little over half of our students at Oak are graduating under the RHSP/DAP, which means the other half are only taking the minimum recommended courses.

3. The percentage of KOHS students taking AP/IB courses is at 25.4%, however only 63% are achieving a rating of Above Criterion on their respective AP/IB exams. (Klein High is at 20.3%, and 80.2% testing above criterion.) This means Oak student are taking the AP/IB courses, and yet not scoring high numbers on the exams for these courses.

4. The percentage of KOHS students graduating is at 68.04%. (Klein High is at 80.40%.) This is amazing to see such a disparity between these two schools. Can anyone explain how this has happened?

5. Average class size at KOHS is 26.2, while Klein High is at 23.6. I know that you have said, Dr. Cain, that adding a wing onto already overcrowded KOHS will alleviate the overcrowding, but having KOHS balloon in population to 3500-3600 is not a desirable trend in high-performing school districts these days. If you take a look at the highest performing schools on the Children at Risk report, you will notice that most of these schools are around 2,000 students only.

I look forward to anyone and everyone's response as to why Klein Oak has fared so poorly on this report, and what is actively being done now to change this. If you can't help me, please let me know who I can talk with to get some answers.

Sincerely,
Connie O'Donnell

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 04/13/08 03:23 PM | Print |

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